Everybody Jam by Ali Lewis (review copy) - Danny Dawson lives in the middle of the Australian outback. His older brother Jonny was killed in an accident last year but no-one ever talks about it.
And now it's time for the annual muster. The biggest event of the year on the cattle station, and a time to sort the men from the boys. But this year things will be different: because Jonny's gone and Danny's determined to prove he can fill his brother's shoes; because their fourteen-year-old sister is pregnant; because it's getting hotter and hotter and the rains won't come; because cracks are beginning to show...
When Danny's mum admits she can't cope, the family hires a housegirl to help out - a wide-eyed English backpacker. She doesn't have a clue what she's let herself in for. And neither do they. From Amazon UK
I'm not entirely sure what I expected from Everybody Jam, but what I got wasn't it. Although I enjoyed reading it, I finished it thinking, "That's it?"
The story is of several months in Danny Dawson's life, a cattle ranch owner's son in the Australian outback. His brother, Jonny, died a year ago, his sister, Sissy, is pregnant, and there has been a long drought - things are not looking great. But Danny is looking forward to this year's muster - where the cattle across the territory are gathered together and it's decided which should be kept and which should go to be slaughtered (it's actually a lot more exciting than I make it sound). When an extra pair of hands is needed to help them out at home, Liz, the "Pommie", is hired - the first of a number of events that change the life Danny is used to for several months
The book was really good. I loved Danny's voice, which was similar to that in My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher; Danny is 13, so his voice is older and he knows more, but there is stil the naivity and innocence. I loved the use of Australian slang, but sometimes it took a while to work out what some of them meant - I've watched a fair number of episodes of a popular Australian soap, but I still had some problems, and there was no glossary.
Although Jonny died a year ago, and Danny is still grieving for him, it's not the focus of the book, it's a subplot. Just like the "Pommie" arriving, Sissy being pregnant, the muster and the drought are subplots. There isn't one main plot for this story, just several little ones. What we do get of Danny's grief is really quite sweet. His family doesn't talk about Jonny, so neither does Danny, though he needs to. He shared a room with Jonny, and has kept his things - clothes on the floor, sheets on the bed, toys left out - exactly as Jonny left them, as a kind of shrine to him. He touches the photo of Jonny on the piano everyday, and doesn't feel right if he doesn't. There is one incident where Danny really blows up, and you see how badly he's grieving, yet unable to deal with it, because he can't talk about it - until the "Pommie" asks about him. It doesn't make things better, but it's like a release for him.
As I said, there is no one main forcus for this story, which is why I felt so bewildered when I finished. It was just ordinary. Obviously, I don't live on a cattle ranch in the Australian outback, so I can't exactly say what is ordinary or not, but the book felt like it was "this is a taste of what it's like". I can't summarise this story, because there's no main conflict. Is it the drought? The pregnancy? Jonny's death? What I'm trying to say is, even though I learnt about the outback, the book was just everyday occurances in this boy's life. If an actual boy who lives this life was to pick up the book, I think it would be too much like their life to enjoy it - there was no event or conflict to make it different from the ordinary, to make it exciting, to make it an escape. Hence the "That's it?" feeling when I finished.
So yes, I enjoyed Everybody Jam, but came away wondering what the point of the story was - until I read in the Acknowledgements that Ali Lewis was a Pommie on a cattle ranche during a muster, and was inspired to write about it. Probably a nice summer read, as long as you don't expect anything huge. Worth a read.
Thanks to Andersen Press for sending me a review copy.
Published: 3rd March 2011
Publisher: Andersen Press
Buy on Amazon US